Back to the fiery red rocks of southwestern Utah – Kanab

On our drive down from Jacob Lake to Kanab we were presented with a view of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.  We could actually discern the series of plateaus that descend from Bryce Canyon (the top “stair” at over 9,000′ elevation).  It’s followed by the other vertical drops at the Pink Cliffs, Grey Cliffs, White Cliffs, Vermillion Cliffs and Chocolate Cliffs.  And that staircase-like landscape is how the national monument got its name and this is the best spot to really see and understand why.

The technicolor cliffs of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

We had passed through Kanab in 2016, coming from Zion National Park to Lake Powell, Arizona.  The richly-colored vermillion cliffs bordering Highway 89 between Kanab and Page were stunning, and we made a mental note to come back one day.  Here we were three years later, finally making Kanab our home base for some red-colored fun!

Kanab is surrounded by the distinctively sculpted sandstone cliffs that define southwestern Utah.  It’s on the second “step” up (the Vermillion Cliffs layer) in the five-step Grand Staircase.  So here’s a warning that you’ll definitely be seeing red by the end of this post!

Red cliffs overlooking our site at J&J RV Park in Kanab

Johnson Canyon

Steve has managed to get me hooked on the old “Gunsmoke” TV series, as he has been for years.  One of the first things we did in Kanab was check out what’s left of the old movie sets from the show.  Much of it was filmed in Kanab, and the remaining decrepit structures are on private land along Johnson Canyon Road.  Now we both yell “Been there!” when we see one of the structures on the show’s reruns.  Yes, this is what our life has come to…

It’s sad that the property owners have let the fictional Dodge City go to ruin, Steve wants to get out there and fix them up!

We actually included a stop at the real Dodge City during our journey through Kansas.  All of the original main cast members are deceased now except for “Newly O’Brien” (Buck Taylor, now over 80 years old), who was occasionally returning to Dodge City to meet fans at that time.

Sad to see them like this, but we still recognize the structures and the hills behind them when we watch the show
With this beautiful backdrop, Marshall Matt Dillon must have loved looking for bad guys here!

There were other interesting things along Johnson Canyon that we enjoyed during our drive:

White cliffs lined Johnson Canyon Road

Hitting the trails –

Hiking is only one of the many adventures to be experienced in Kanab, but it was our main focus.  You see, trekking the red rocks of southern Utah is pretty much the pinnacle of hiking, in our humble opinion.  Steve was excited to try some of them with his new Oboz boots, which he really likes.  But we’ll have to come back to explore even more of this beautiful area!

The rocks are almost as red as his shirt! …but really look at his hiking boots 🙂

If you have time for only one hike while in Kanab, the Squaw Trail might be a good choice.   It was rated easy, but since we climbed 800′ in 1.5 miles with some steep areas we would rate it as moderate.  Ascending up the switchbacks, we were rewarded with expansive views of Kanab and up-close encounters with the red rocks:

The climb begins, where else can you see colors like this?
In a few thousand years this might become an arch
Taking a break to view Kanab from above
The 2.5-mile trail ended with a view of the White Cliffs in the distance
On our way back we saw a Jeep that looked familiar,  were our friends spying on us? 🙂

It turned out not to be John and Pam’s Jeep, but they’d been here a couple of weeks before and suggested we hike the Cottonwood Trail.  It’s a 9-mile out and back trek that they couldn’t complete because of bad weather and high water, but we were able to complete it and can report to our hiking buddies that it was a winner!

The trail greeter seemed glum to share his space with us
Now that’s a cool picnic table ensemble!
There were lots of ups and downs as we crossed several ravines and washes

There were many splashes of color along the way:

But it was the meadow of desert sunflowers at the end of the 4.5-mile trail that made us gasp:

We were so happy that we could go all the way, or we would have missed this

The Mansard Trail was a 5-mile round trip that ended at an alcove near high cliffs:

That’s our destination

We followed the same trail that John and Pam had earlier, here is their excellent description of the hike and I’ll just include a few of my photos:

We saw a creepy black spider and many rainbow-colored stink bugs, ewww!

Staring at the cliff and coatings that looked like dripping paint and yellow stripes made us walk right by the alcove:

Desert varnish is a thin coating (patina) of manganese, iron and clays on the surface of sun-baked cliffs
Yellow stripes could also be patina
Nature’s bridal bouquet!

We backtracked and looked up – we had finally found it!

This alcove is thought to date to the Anasazi period, 0 AD to about 1250 AD

There were writings and petroglyphs on the floor, which is uncommon.  We had only seen similar ones at Hueco Tanks State Park in Texas:

Rock art hidden in the blow sand around the base of the floor
Looks like fish bones to me
Looking out from the alcove, we saw views that the Anasazi people must have enjoyed so long ago
Back down we go!
Our car was still all alone in the parking lot – perfect!

It turned out our planned one week stay wasn’t long enough and we extended a couple extra days to explore the area as fully as we could. But still there are more trails to be had, another list for our future revisits.

And if you think you’ve seen “red” on this post, wait till you see what’s up next!




  1. I do love southern Utah and never get bored seeing all that red. That field of yellow flowers looks amazing. Score!

    • Let’s buy the Gunsmoke set and give tours!

      You two nail it wherever you go. Joodie and I commented on a hike today how long it will be until we get a chance to see these awesome places, but you’re making it the next best thing to wait and enjoy your writing and photos.

      I had a pair of Oboz when we did Great Basin. Sadly the soles started to delaminate before I had them for a year so back to REI they went. Too bad. I loved them. They were fast on the trail.

      • I think that is a great idea and we charge the Gunsmoke fans something like $$ per person ! You never fail nor get disappointed hiking anywhere in Southern Utah! Glad that our category “Utah” can someday be your tip guide when you visit.

  2. Thanks for sharing as we continue to be stuck in College Station for the summer…

  3. Oh man… we loved our time in this area and your pictures just make me want to go back! So much color, so many endless views, and all that sunshine!! Love it!

    While I have never watched Gunsmoke, I know it was a really famous show and I, too, am amazed no one has tried to preserve those buildings. Especially considering all the interest Kanab has in Hollywood shows that were filmed there. It really is too bad.

    When I recently replaced my hiking boots, I also bought Oboz! I had never heard of the company before, but went to REI and the employee highly recommended them. So far, they’ve been great! Hopefully they’ll hold up over time. I hope Steve loves his too!

    • I did remember your visit here, and I thought then you will come home with a puppy 🙂 We too did not know about the company Oboz. Steve was set on getting another Merrel, but the salesperson talked him into trying Oboz. He is glad he did, for he liked them!

  4. All three of those hikes are absolutely gorgeous!! Such colorful rock formations, wildflowers, and stunning views. And all, of course, beautifully photographed. That landscape photo of the desert sunflowers is especially striking. We’ve only driven through Kanab but have wanted to return to spend time there. Now I know we need to plan on at least a week. You keep adding to our list. :-))

    • Like you, we did just drive through Kanab. And now being here for over a week opened up a lot of new trails to follow and places to discover. We are definitely returning here!

  5. We’ve passed by Kanab and done one day visits, also, and this was our first extended visit. We, too, need to come back for there is much more that needs to be explored. So glad you enjoyed your visit. We enjoyed previewing trails for you:)

    • Indeed you were previewing all the trails for us. And yet there are still other trails and places to discover that we plan to return to Kanab, Oct 2020.

  6. Seems like Kanab is a place everyone just drives through on the way elsewhere and now that we’ve all seen what a fantastic place it is, I hope everyone else keeps right on moving though. Such beauty everywhere and you can have it virtually all to yourself! We were there, years ago, to volunteer at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary and fell in love with the entire area but it wasn’t until this last year that we went back to really explore. It won’t be the last time for sure. Monaliza, I loved your explanation of the naming of Grand Staircase Escalante…..clear and concise.
    The sunflower field is gasp worthy!

    • You are right Kanab was just a pass through town and they are going to change that. The downside is, it could become a Moab one day, crowded!
      Thank you, Sue, I tried to avoid speaking like a fake geologist 🙂

  7. Just the other day we were discussing how we were feeling about being in one place all summer, and we were feeling fine — until this post😆 It made us pine a bit for travel and especially the red rocks. All of your hikes were, as ever, stunning. Can’t wait to see your next post if it’s what I think it is!!

    TBG says he’ll work with Steve to bring Dodge back to life😁

    • Yeah, let our men do the thinking, the buying, the planning, and we girls will be there to conduct the tour. ha ha ha
      Other than Colorado our best hiking has always been in Southern Utah, the red dirt just make it more mesmerizing.
      Hmm your guess is good except that we were there already there two years ago:)

  8. What a beautiful reward to find the fields of desert sunflowers! Very stunning as are the striations of colors on the rocks. Kanab is still on our list of places to visit! It is very sad that someone has not restored the Gunsmoke set…

    • We can never get wrong hiking around Kanab, you know this is southern Utah, so we are surrounded by all the red rock beauties and the meadow of yellow flowers was the icing on the red layer cake.

Comments are closed.